friend Willy reminds me of a juggler who came to our
church one Christmas Eve for the midnight service.
I wanted to read an old story from long ago about a
wandering juggler who happened into a monastery in deep
winter and asked for refuge. You may know this
story. If memory serves me well, I think it's a
French tale called "Our Lady's Juggler."
The story says that the monks were busy making gifts to
lay before the high altar of the monastery chapel in
honor of the Virgin Mary. Because if she was
pleased, her statue would shed a tear of compassion for
humanity. But when the gifts were presented at the
Feast of the Nativity, the statue did not respond.
In the middle of the night, the juggler, who thought he
had no gift to give, went in alone and juggled before
the statue--and juggled to the very limit of his
capacity. To make a long story short, the statue
of the Virgin Mary shed a tear--and the baby Jesus in
her arms smiled--because the juggler had given
everything he had, holding back nothing in his
generosity. So goes the story.
To bring the story to life, I wanted to have a real
juggler perform for the congregation first, and then I'd
tell the story and turn it into my Christmas
sermon. A little show-business pizzazz for the
When time for the service came, the juggler had not
arrived. Not until the middle of the second carol
did I see him working his way up the crowded side
aisle. But no costume. I had specifically
asked him to wear his jester outfit. And no
juggling equipment, either. What a
disappointment. So much for magic at midnight.
congregation headed into the last verse of "O
Little Town of Bethlehem," the juggler and I held a
whispered conference. His car had been stolen,
with all his possessions and equipment. But not to
worry. A friend had brought him and would take him
home afterward. In the meantime, he had an
idea. All I had to do was tell the fairy story,
and he, the juggler, would take it from there.
No time to argue. The carol was done, and the
service had to go on. I assumed that when it came
time for his performance, the juggler would explain his
circumstances and use some things he had found in the
church kitchen for a short act. Reasonable
enough. However, Christmas Eve is not a time for
reasonableness. I ought to know that by now.
So I read the story.
And the juggler stepped into the light from out of the
congregation. Slim young man, the wiry, athletic
kind. Black tennis shoes, jeans, green turtleneck
shirt. Solemn expression and freckles on his face
instead of the expected makeup. Longish brown
hair. Nothing special to look at. And no
tools of his trade.
He smiled. And began his routine. In fact,
he went through his entire routine just as if he had
brought balls and clubs and knives and scarves with
him. We had all seen enough juggling to know what
was going on. And in each part of the routine, he
went one step further than he had ever juggled and we
had ever seen. Seven balls is supposed to be the
limit for the very best professional juggler. Our
guy did eight, and we knew it when he did it and
applauded the moment of triumph. On through twelve
silk scarves in the air at once and seven knives, and we
even knew when he set his torches on fire and got eight
torches in the air all at once and caught them without
burning himself. We laughed and shouted
encouragement and applauded this remarkable
performance. We couldn't see it, but we believed
it. We gave him a standing ovation. On
Christmas Eve in church--a standing ovation. He
held up his hand for silence, and the congregation sat
down. The juggler wasn't through.
He started juggling things we couldn't recognize.
What's this? Chickens? Birds? Some
kind of tree. Rings. One off each
finger. Five? Five gold rings. Got
it! "The Twelve Days of
Christmas." He was going to juggle one of
everything in the Twelve Days. The partridge, the
pear tree, and all the rest. Impossible. But
he was doing it. A swan. A goose and an
egg. I was thinking, He will never get the maid
and the cow off the ground, but with a great heaving
effort, he did it. After that, the leaping lady
and the dancing lord and the drum with drummer were a
piece of cake. Every gift was in the air--way, way
up in the air, because this was a lot of stuff.
And as each piece came around, we knew what it was and
shouted out its name as he caught it and threw it back
in the air again. Fantastic! Nobody had ever
done this before. The juggler was laughing.
The congregation cheered like a crowd at a championship
game when a last-minute score won it for the home
team. The juggler suddenly clapped his hands
loudly and stood still. One finger in front of his
lips called for silence. And silence came.
We stood looking at him and he at us. In the most
powerful and meaningful moment of quiet I've witnessed
at Christmas Eve. The sermon was supposed to
follow the juggler. And it did. But it was
not I who spoke. We were all addressed by a sermon
of eloquent instructive silence. The silence in
which we absorbed the power of the vision we had of the
impossible event we had wished into being. The
silence in which we thought about our capacity to
realize things we can sometimes only imagine. Some
of the most wonderful things have to be believed to be
seen. Like flying reindeer and angels. Like
peace on earth, goodwill, hope, and joy. Real
because they can be imagined into being. Christmas
is not a date on a calendar but a state of mind.
Someone--I don't know who--began to sing "Silent
Night." As was our tradition, people on the
first row lit their small candles from the big candle on
the altar, and then passed the flame on to the candles
of those in rows behind them. The church filled
with light. And we filed out of the church singing
into the night and went home, taking our light with us.
is more than a momentary reaction to small
problems. "Uh-oh" is an
attitude--a perspective on the universe.
It is a part of the equation that summarizes my
view of the conditions of existence:
"Uh-oh" + "oh-wow" +
"uh-oh" + "oh, God" =